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Boone's Famous Ladies
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Boone's Famous Ladies

Our first stop was in Boone at the birthplace of Mamie Doud Eisenhower, wife of President Dwight Eisenhower.

Mamie’s father managed a meatpacking business in Boone, and his emerging affluence is evident in the comfortable Doud house restored to the 1890s period when Mamie was born.

If you go, visit the basement museum for a glimpse into Mamie’s life, particularly the White House years. As First Lady, she was highly popular and known for her charm, hospitality and love of pretty clothes, jewelry…and all things pink. In the 1950s, there was even a hue called “Mamie Pink.”

Mamie’s family moved away from Boone when she was just 9 months old. But she still considered it “home”—she and Ike returned regularly to visit relatives. In the garage out back, there’s even a 1949 Chrysler Windsor sedan they presented to her Uncle Joel for Christmas.

Our next stop was the Boone County Historical Center in downtown Boone. Among the many displays is an entire room devoted to heroine Kate Shelley, who lived in Boone County.

On the afternoon of July 6, 1881, heavy thunderstorms caused a flash flood that washed out timbers of the railroad trestle at Honey Creek. The C&NW Railroad sent out a pusher engine to check track conditions. It crossed the Des Moines River bridge without incident but plunged into Honey Creek about 11 p.m., killing two of the four crewmen.

Fifteen-year-old Kate heard the crash and knew an eastbound train was due to come through in about an hour. She crossed the damaged Honey Creek bridge and then the Des Moines River bridge on hands and knees with only flashes of lightning to illuminate the way.

She was able to reach the depot at Moingona, which notified the train with 200 passengers on board. Although she saved the train and the lives of many passengers, her reward from the railroad was only $100, half a barrel of flour, half a load of coal and a lifetime pass.

News of her bravery spread nationwide, and her legacy lives on. The railroad built a new bridge across the Des Moines River in 1901 and named it after her. At 2,685 feet long and 185 feet high, it was the highest double-track railroad bridge in the U.S.

That bridge was replaced with an even longer and higher bridge a couple of years ago, and it, too, bears Kate Shelley’s name. It’s an engineering feat that accommodates two freight trains traveling 70 mph. It’s worth a whistle-stop to see three miles west of Boone.

This content previously appeared in the popular “Road Trip” series in Our Iowa Magazine. Learn more about the publication at www.OurIowaMagazine.com.

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